New evidence collected by the British Heart Foundation highlights a gender health gap at every stage of the medical journey when it comes to heart attacks. The charity suggests that this had led to a significant number of women needlessly losing their lives due to a lack of awareness, diagnosis and treatment options, compared to men.
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Women are not receiving the same standard of care
Research released this month has confirmed that over 8,200 women died in England and Wales ever a ten-year period because they are receiving a lower standard of care than men. Today, heart attacks are more treatable than they ever have been, but women are being let down as the same standard of care that men receive is not being made available to them.
Key issues that were uncovered include the fact that inequalities are apparent at every stage, leading to delayed diagnosis, and failure to receive treatment and aftercare in a timely fashion, resulting in a poorer survival rate for women suffering a heart attack.
The British Heart Foundation will be initiating a campaign to address this, beginning with challenging the perception that heart attacks are more common in men.
The BHF recently released a report stating that in older cohorts, women are significantly more at risk of suffering from cardiovascular disease than men are.
But the perception remains that it’s a ‘man’s disease’. While the reasons for the inequalities that exist are complex in how they have developed, this incorrect perception is a key root cause.
Inequality at every stage
The research that the British Heart Foundation has recently published has uncovered key areas of inequality in the medical journey:
Preconceptions by the public
It’s a common misconception that heart attacks are more likely to happen to men, so women are less likely to seek medical attention early on. This delay to get the necessary medical help immediately leads to a reduction in survival rate.
Evidence suggests that men typically arrive at the hospital between 1 hour 24 minutes and 3 hours 30 minutes from the onset of symptoms, whereas women take significantly longer, from 1 hour 48 minutes to 7 hours 12 minutes.
Mistakes by doctors
It’s not only the general population who believe heart attacks are a a ‘man’s disease’. While the issue of receiving a wrong initial diagnosis is a problem for both men and women, evidence shows that women are 50% more likely to be misdiagnosed.
It has even been found that some doctors wrongly believe that women experience different symptoms during a heart attack compared with men, and this misconception is adding to the problem of misdiagnosis.
According to the BHF, more than 8,200 women died from 2002 and 2013 who would have survived had they received the same standard of care that is available to men.
Treatments like bypass surgery and stents are standard for men, whereas women are less likely to be offered such therapies. The reason for this inequality is unclear, but again, it is assumed that perception plays an important part here.
The aftercare that women receive following a heart attack was found to be poorer than the care offered to men. Results of the BHF’s study uncovered that woman are less likely to be prescribed statins and beta-blockers. Meaning that women are being given less of a chance to recover and prevent future heart attacks or a stroke.
While heart attacks have long been thought of to be more common in men, evidence shows that it is women who are at greater risk in some instances.
Women who smoke are twice as likely to suffer a heart attack compared with men who smoke, high blood pressure increases women’s risk more 80% more than it does in men, and type 2 diabetes increases women’s risk by 50% more than it does in men.
Making a change
While there are many points along the medial journey that need to be updated in order to eradicate the gender gap, the BHF is focusing on starting to make a change by first empowering women by educating them about heart attacks so that they can be confident in first seeking out treatment when it is needed.
However, their research has also made it clear that the perception of heart attacks must be changed in both the general population and the medical community in order to address inequalities at every stage.